Yes, there are time limitations on when an individual can both sue and be prosecuted for sexual abuse in Washington D.C. These laws make it very important to keep time in mind when deciding whether or not to pursue a case.

It is also important to remember that the criminal statute of limitations (SOL) that applies is the one that was in place at the time of the crime itself. This means that while the legislature may have changed the SOL, the SOL rules that apply are the ones that were in place at the time of the offense. If the limitation has run out, it cannot be restarted, meaning the accused cannot be prosecuted. Whether this is the same result with civil litigation is still being debated. It would be wise to consult a lawyer familiar with the local laws as to what rule applies to your case and if your time limit has expired.

Civil Lawsuit for Sexual Abuse

If someone is attempting to sue an abuser for damages, then they must act within the time period of the civil statute of limitations. The D.C., the time frame for filing a sexual abuse lawsuit is generally:

  • Three years from their 18th birthday, if the abuse happened while you were a minor
  • Three years from the actual abuse itself.

The District of Columbia SOL provisions are still not entirely clear as to whether they permit a "delayed discovery" rule. A delayed discovery rule prevents an SOL from activating until someone "realizes" their injuries from abuse, generally recovered repressed memories or something similar. There have been cases decided both for and against the delayed discovery rule, and many factors may go into whether a judge will allow it. For example, the court will generally be more inclined to allow the delayed discovery if the memory was completely repressed, as opposed to just partially. 

Criminal Prosecution for Sexual Abuse

The criminal statute of limitations in Washington D.C. is actually much more lenient than the civil counterpart. First or second degree sexual abuse of a child has a 15 year statute of limitations that does not begin to run until the victim is 21 years of age. Incest, recording child pornography, and sexual abuse of a ward or patient all have a window of 10 years. Moreover, if the victim is a ward or patient of the abuser, the statute of limitations will not begin to run, regardless of age, until the victim is no longer in such a relationship with the abuser. The reason for the delay is because SOL will not start ticking until the crime is completed, and where the individual is still under the care of an abuser, the abuse is deemed to be potentially on-going, therefore giving victims more time to come forward.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Sexual abuse is one of the crimes that benefits the most from statutes of limitations, as often victims are too ashamed or frightened to testify before its too late. If you are the victim of sexual abuse, a criminal lawyer can help you by filing a lawsuit against your abuser, the people who enabled your abuser, or by explaining the complicated issues presented by the statute of limitations. Time is of the essence, and talking to a lawyer immediately is the best step towards protecting your rights.